Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar's Fantasmagorical, Hegemonic Apologies

In the year 2009, the peoples of the Earth convened in a country called Denmark. Over one hundred world leaders met to save the world's atmosphere from man-made pollutants. Due to much dickering, short-sightedness, pride and old-fashioned greed, the climate summit failed. Peoples of Earth carry on as they have for over a hundred years. They continue to reproduce their ways of living on carbon-based energy.

It is the year 2154 in James Cameron's cinematic tour de force. Human beings have gutted the world for all it's worth and is exploring the universe for resources. A mining company from Earth is on planet Pandora to harvest a 20-million dollar per kilo mineral called 'Unobtainium.' The only catch - the planet has a resistant indigenous population.

Ten minutes into the film, I thought, no American will have written this movie. "Is James Cameron Australian?" I whispered to my friend. "I'm not sure. Or Kiwi," he whispered back. True enough, later I found out Cameron is Canadian. And much of the CG work is done by a Kiwi visual effects studio WETA (of Lord of the Rings fame).

The film is a thinly veiled self-recrimination over America's imperial posturings this past decade. Had an American made the film, he'd have been accused of treason. Had this been 2003 instead of 2009, this film would never have been made! As the corporate suit, played by Giovanni Ribisi, coldly explains, the mining company isn't on Pandora to make nice or to bring enlightenment. They are there for the precious mineral unobtanium. In case the audience don't catch on, Cameron uses the terms 'pre-emptive strike' and 'shock and awe' near the end of the film, evidently alluding to the decision to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Avatar is a social artifact of the times, much as the Star Wars trilogy was a product of the Cold War. This time however, Cameron's evil empire is not another country, but greed in the heart of the rich industrial West. The green message is also pretty clear. As my friend says, the humans are plugged-in to machines while the Nabi are quite literally plugged-in to nature.

And because this is the age of the 'glocal' (global + local), the film also reminded me of the uphill battle being waged by the Mangyan in Mindoro against evil Norwegian mining company Intex. The animated version of lead character JakeSully resembled Mangyan leader Kuya P., long braid and all. Like the film, their story has so far ended happily.

The film is over two hours long but one never notices. A visual feast, the film's narrative grabs viewers and never lets go until the very last bombastic end. One almost forgets those are moving pixels 'acting' on the screen. I particularly loved the voice acting of Zoe Saldana. I even shed tears during a moving moment. The only false note was the love scene between the animated characters. I wasn't the only one who snickered. In all, I recommend you see this film. Even if the geo-political (over?)undertones escape you, Avatar is a rip-roaring fantasmagorical extravaganza.

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